December 6, 2008

Climate May Have Caused Rome to Fall

Geologists say a discovery in a cave near Jerusalem suggests climate change may have caused the fall of the Roman and Byzantine Empires.

Geochemical analysis of a stalagmite from Soreq Cave in the Stalactite Cave Nature Reserve reveals increasingly dry weather from A.D. 100 to A.D. 700 that coincided with the fall of both Roman and Byzantine rule in the region, the University of Wisconsin-Madison said Friday.

Geology graduate student Ian Orland said oxygen isotope signatures and impurities trapped in the layered mineral deposits were used to determine annual rainfall levels for the years the stalagmite was growing, from approximately 200 B.C. to A.D. 1100.

Whether this is what weakened the Byzantines or not isn't known, but it is an interesting correlation, University of Wisconsin-Madison geology professor John Valley said. These things were certainly going on at the time that those historic changes occurred.

The report will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Quaternary Research.